Chocolate Bar

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I have been missing from this blog for sometime now and feel I owe an explanation

Just like a certain famous chocolate bar advises us all to do…..I am taking a break. A break from ultra running. For this year only. I will still run more conventional distances and I WILL return to ultra’s again next year. I have by no means lost my mojo for an extended period or fallen out of love with running. I just have a very real need to concentrate my time and efforts on other vitally important aspects of my life

I have a very busy year planned coupled with a very stressful lifestyle. I am not complaining about this and wouldn’t change my lifestyle for the world. It would not  be  appropriate for me to expand this with more detail beyond having reached a decision to concentrate my time in other areas of my life (and lets be honest here – training for ultra events and taking part in them requires a whole lot of time).

So my priority for 2016 is not to spend copious and endless hours roaming around the countryside as I take on my next big challenge (either in preparation or in participation) . By default then  Chapter 3 has been deferred until next year.

It has not been a flippant or easy to decision to come to, but none the less, I feel it is the right choice to have reached

 

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A two fold absence

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I haven’t really written much this month. I sometimes wonder to myself “who actually reads this anyway?”. This is often quickly followed by “Does that matter?” and then “You enjoy writing it. So just bloody get on with it then!!”

I also haven’t ran much since Target run #2 either so here is a quick summary to bring me and my legion of adoring readers up to date:

17 Aug – a short sharp 39 min Fartlek session

22 Aug -Target run #3, which was supposed to be a 10 hour run, didn’t happen.  Life stepped in (yet again) to foil my plans and I never even got my trainers out of the cupboard!!!!!

23 Aug – a 31 min Tempo run (doesn’t even come close to making amends for side stepping Target run #3 in it’s entirety)

27 Aug – A 2hr 5 min Hill session at my favourite hill. 6 reps and 3,708 ft of elevation. I enjoyed this one 🙂

Today is the last day of Aug and there is no plan to stick my running clobber on and go for a run of any description, be that short or long, fast or slow. So that is that for the not so sunny month of August.

My next and final long run is due on Sat 5 Sept. This is Target run #4 – 12 hours at Long Run in The Meadow. Another event organised by Dave Urwin from Albion Running so is bound be original, perhaps a tad eccentric, and lots of fun 🙂

After that, and with only 2 weeks at that point until Chapter 2, it will be time to taper. TAPER!! That is pretty much what the month of August has already been.

C’est la vie 

Like a line from The A Team

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Anyone who has only even loosely been following my training will know that the consistency/frequency of my running could only be described as sporadic at best. There are many legitimate reasons for this, but rather roll out a long list of my personal mishaps and commitments, it is suffice to say I will wrap them all up under the one heading of Life. And Life does have the nastiest habit of jumping out in front of us and scuppering the best laid plans of any of us.

This penchant for Life to get in the way has left me feeling that my long runs are nowhere near where I believe they should be at this point. When I think of how long my long runs should be – then my  “time on feet” is lacking somewhat I feel. To date this year my longest run in mileage was 50k and the longest time  I have spent on a single run is 6 hrs 40 mins. And they were both  way back in early March on the Imber Ultra. Since then I have managed a few runs of between 3 and 4 hours, but when I consider that Chapter 2 is now only a matter of 2 months away, then 3-4 hours now, this close to the event, just doesn’t cut the mustard I’m afraid!

So rather than go daft and attempt to build up my long runs by hugely increasing the hours of them (that won’t work – overtraining and injury can be the only result in that situation) – I have set myself “target” runs. I have calendered 4  specific runs over the next 7 weeks, each with an increase in hours than it’s predecessor. This will allow me to build my “time on feet” up to 12 hours, and affording a 2 week taper period prior to Chapter 2 commencing.

As Col John “Hannibal” Smith would say – “I love it when a plan comes together” 🙂

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Ham & Lyme

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I debated with myself where I should publish this post. Should I put it on the “Home” page along with all of my non specific posts? Or  should I stick it on the “Events” page? It was an event after all – it’s just that I didn’t do it. That is if you think of “do it” in the typical sense of “running it”. However I was there. In fact I was there for almost 13 hours. I just didn’t run. I “did it” in an alternative way as I had volunteered to help out behind the scenes. So I chewed this over in my mind for a short while. It wasn’t a massive, long winded, and protracted mental battle, and I quickly settled on the “Home” page. I will save the “Events” page as the preserve for when I do actually run.

I had the pleasure, and pleasure is the right word, of volunteering at The Ham & Lyme 50/100k on Sat 11 July. This event follows the Liberty trail beginning at Ham Hill in Somerset and culminating at Lyme Regis in Dorset. This is the inaugural year of the  event which has been organised by Dave Urwin and Natanya Joy of  Albion Running. Now Dave is an interesting character – a tad off centre, intelligent, humorous, articulate, and visually not unlike Rasputin in appearance. He is also a published author having chronicled his journey into the world of ultra running in his book “Everything will work out in the long run”. If I had to restrict myself to two descriptive words for Dave they would be interesting and quirky.

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Rasputin/Dave

Having made my decision not to run in this event, with my thought process being based on not being aware of how “match fit” I would be post op , I contacted Dave and offered my assistance to help out instead. He very kindly accepted my offer. As the day of the event neared I was surprisingly excited about it. I was genuinely looking forward to helping as opposed to running. All events, no matter how big or how small, rely very much on volunteers. The equation is an extraordinarily easy one:  No volunteers = no event. I run in events and fully intend to continue in doing so. Time for me to give something back then eh

I awoke on the morning of 11 July at 0445 hrs. A quick wash, coffee made, and departed for the journey south. I arrived at 0615 hrs at the start point in Ham Hill Country Park and met up with Dave. We chatted for a bit before setting up the registration room and awaiting the arrival of the runners. Dave had individual cards that were hand written by Natanya containing inspirational quotes for each and every runner. These were handed to each runner as they collected their race numbers – which added a very nice personal touch I believe. This set the tone and was very much in line with the entire spirit of this event. As registration became busy some runners unfortunately did not receive their cards but Dave assured me that he will post them on. I did joke with a few of the participants that they had the carry the card with them and show it when they collected their medals at the end – “Failure” I stated “to have your card will result in a DNF”…………..I hope they didn’t take me seriously………….. They laughed, or grimaced, or just thought to themselves “daft bugger!……… so I don’t think they did!

0900 hrs arrived remarkably quickly, and after a quirky race brief from Dave, the runners set off. At this point I often enter in to my usual waffle as I describe the route and  – I would love to be able to describe the route – I understand from those that did run that some of the views were outstanding – but I am not capable of doing so I’m afraid. I now had a bit of hanging around to do as Dave had told me that I didn’t have to be at the 50k point until about 1130 hrs as that would  give us be plenty of time to set up. So after I had loaded my car with all the drop bags and the gazebo, I grabbed myself another coffee and sat in the now still after quiet.

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There is a gazebo under that lot somewhere!

Dave departed Ham Hill before me as he was collecting a few friends from Taunton, and I made my way down to Lyme Regis, arriving at The Marine Theatre some 50 minutes later at 1100 hrs. At 1215 hrs I was still awaiting the arrival of Dave, as also were the sports massage ladies. I now began to worry a bit (I am actually playing it down a bit now – I was worried a lot in truth) that perhaps (A) we were in the wrong place as perhaps Dave had to change the end point after we had been informed, or (B) Dave was just well behind schedule. I had images in my head of the first runners arriving and nothing being in place for them – no food, no drinks, no drop bags! In theory it was possible that the first runners could run the 50k between 0900 and 1230 hrs. I needn’t have worried though – the route and the topography of it meant that a 3 hr 30 min 50k was unlikely. I just didn’t know the route however so was entering in to “flap mode”. I fired a quick text to Dave, who at that exact moment, walked around the corner in his neon yellow RD’s vest and blue shorts, reading my text as he did so.

We  quickly mastered the skill of erecting a gazebo whilst battling with the sea breeze at the same time. Another of Dave’s friends Luci had brought along some large batches of home made soups – vegetable minestrone or spicy lentil. I of course tried both and can testify that they were both sensational. Between Dave, Natanya, Luci, and myself, all the food was laid out, all the drinks were laid out, and we chatted, and we waited, and Dave received regular updates on his mobile as to the current location of the lead runners.

We didn’t have too long to wait as the first 2 runners,  Michael Robinson and Shane Nesbitt arrived in that order. Michael is now the current course record holder with a time of 4:46:48. This time itself is testimony to the difficulty of the course (a 3 hr 30 min 50k – what was I thinking!!!) Third past the post – well no post really – third past Dave in his neon yellow high viz vest was Nick Sale. Runners continued to arrive in singles, in pairs or trios, or one batch arrived in a group of 8. First lady to finish was Jane Allison, with Sarah Baker and Sarah Frost grabbing the 2nd and 3rd places respectively. Luke Elliott breezed in, had a few gulps of ginger beer, a handful of pretzels, a couple of mouthfuls of soup………….and shot off back the way he had come. One word for him – machine. Ultimately he went on to win the 100k overall. I topped up water bottles, fetched food and drink, handed a few medals out, shook the hands of runners, gave words of congratulation, and gave words of encouragement when I thought needed.

I met up with two friends of mine who had been running, Rich Corp and Steve Carroll, both of whom professed to me how hard they found it as well as how much they enjoyed it. I spent the entire afternoon speaking to  runners who all without fail, only had positive things to say about the entire day. Listening to these runners made me believe that Dave has not only put on a successful race……. he has also provided an unique experience too that has been enhanced by also managing to capture the quirkiness of his personality as well.

Do I wanna run this next year? That my friends is a resounding “YES” 🙂

Not like putting a man on the moon……………..

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I have never run for 24 hours before and the thought of doing so excites me. It also means that I will be journeying into the unknown. Not in the same way that Neil Armstrong did when he travelled to the moon and went for a lil wander. That had never been done by anyone before. I will not get drawn into all the ins and outs of whether the whole thing was a conspiracy or not – that is a debate for an entirely different kind of blog all together. However, taking it all at face value – then it’s an incredible step into the unknownNor will my journey be on the scale of Columbus’ sail across the Atlantic Ocean and the  discovery of America (or was it actually a Norse called Leif Ericson – another argument for another entirely alternative blog). No, my venture into the unknown has in fact been achieved by many many people before. But not by me…………..not yet at least. Running for 24 hours could well be considered as being beyond the norms of conventional running. That fact makes me curios to see how I fare.

I have lost vital training time due to my recent but much overdue surgery. Now I am  not complaining about that. I needed to have the op, and now that I am fully recovered I am glad that I had it. But it did rob me of a few crucial months of training. I can’t make up for those lost sessions now and it would be fool hardy of me to attempt to do so. If I tried to leap frog and “catch up” with where I would of been –  then I would only end up over training and suffering with the associated overuse injuries, niggles, and ultimately……………… burning out. The only end result in that equation is one where I don’t even make it to the start line.

But there is an inner conflict that ensues. One between my internal push the panic button self and my more mature rational it will all work out in the end – somehow, someway – just be sensible self. Panic Button says “Ooh that’s a nice 100k that you can do. It’s a week after that 100 miler that you fancy. Do both. Do both. Do both. Hold up, I found this too – a 12 hour event on the same week. Do em all. Do em all. Do em all. You have some catching up to do if ya wanna get this done and not fall flat on ya face Neil”. Sensible then chips in with “No. Don’t be so bloody daft. You know better than that Neil. You have a plan – of sorts – stick to it.”……………….. Sensible is right of course.

My plan (of sorts) then. What does that entail. Well first and foremost it accepts that I have lost miles and there is absolutely nothing I can do about that. Nothing. I will still get “miles in my legs”. I have time. It won’t be as much as if I hadn’t had the op – but it will be what it will be.

Next is a bit of mental training.  This element has two parts to it which is underpinned by the fact, that in my event at least,  “miles” mean nothing. Most events are measured in distance, be that 5k, a half marathon, 50k, 100 miles,etc, etc. They all have a very specific distance orientated finish line. And most runners will at least have a rough idea of how long it will take them to complete that distance. Thus most  training plans use mileage as the primary measurement as well as a tool for preparing with.  I am preparing myself for 24 hours of sustained effort – not any pre set mileage that determines where the finish line is. So in order to train my head to think “time” not “miles” I am not recording how many miles I have ran. I am not even using my Garmin. The temptation to have a sneaky peek at how far I have done would invariably win – and I would look. No, I am leaving the Garmin at home and just running with a normal stopwatch. This has allowed me to change my thought process from “miles in legs” to “time on feet”.

The second part of my mental training is tied up with the first part. The Holy Grail in terms of 24 hour events is to achieve 100 miles and many ultra runners set this as their goal.  I thought long and hard before I even wrote that last sentence because the other half of my mental training is “Miles don’t matter”.  I am not setting myself a mileage to aim for which, should I not achieve, will leave me feeling like I failed. And even more importantly I also don’t want to give myself an early opt out option. I know when running an ultra that it can hurt, can be horrendous, painful, and tiring. Odd that. I also know that the pain and discomfort passes and is replaced with feeling good again. It is very much like a roller coaster – with highs of purple patch running and lows of “I can’t go on”. Now should I set myself a mileage that I would be happy to achieve then I could find myself at Silly O Clock in the morning, after 18 (or whatever) hours of running, feeling low, tired, sore, grumpy, sorry for myself, and in a slump of “I can’t go on”, when I hear myself saying in a narky, whinny, nasal voice ” I said before I started that I wanted to run at least XX miles. I’ve done that now. I can’t go on. I’m stopping. It’s over “.  So I have only 1 objective, there is only 1 target…………24 hours.

Finally (sighs of relief from those that have read this far) I am attempting to compensate for some of my lost miles (time on feet) by incorporating hills in as many training runs as possible. Each individual lap of Chapter 2 has a climb. The entire route is undulating but there are 2 particularly more predominant hills, one is a steady long climb, and the other is a short, very sharp incline. Over the course of 24 hours the cumulative effect of the elevation of each lap  will add up – in both the tiring effect it has on me and in the total overall ascend. Hills have therefore now become my friend.

So I am not going to the moon. I am stepping into my own unknown. And that is how I plan to get there. 🙂

Close – but no cigar

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So I paid a visit to my GP on Friday for a chat about “the lumps that are no longer there”. Well, I do still have one lump but it is contained behind the internal meshing that was installed during the recent surgery. According to the doc this particular lump is likely to just be a hematoma (a pool of hardened blood from all the poking around inside me – a bit like a big internal scab really). “Probably nothing to worry about – we will keep an eye on it” she said. So I am not worried about it, and to be honest it has got a bit smaller over the last week – in the words of Paul Daniels (for those that remember who he is) – “Not a lot”. But smaller it has got none the less.

The remainder of our chat was about how I was recovering and feeling. After nearly 4 weeks of being signed off work I have found that there really, honestly, hand on heart, only is so much lazing around that I can do. The first week I was entirely incapable of doing much of anything that necessitated me getting out of bed. I made the odd quick excursion in to the bathroom for a toilet break (a break from what?? – laying horizontal under my duvet of repair!) or to have a very quick shower. Come the second week I found myself venturing downstairs. Not for long, and not to do anything (heavens forbid I actually did something). I found myself over this week alternating between laying in bed watching movies, scrolling around Facebook, and blogging……. and sitting on the couch watching movies, scrolling around Facebook, and blogging. However towards the end of this week I did manage to fend for myself a little bit. I successfully made myself the odd sandwich or cuppa before scampering back to the safety of my bed or settee. As the third week arrived I was becoming a lot more mobile. I was up every day and downstairs for the whole duration. Go me eh! I began to be a bit adventurous – on at least 2 occasions I gingerly walked to the school to pick up our youngest at the end of the day (for the unaware I will add at this point that we live no more than 50 metres from the school!). But I was feeling better. Not fully recovered……but certainly on the right path. I had a mountain of things that I wanted to get done, but still wasn’t quite physically well enough to do them. My sick note was due to run out at the end of this week but my doc wasn’t prepared to allow me back to work just yet. A brief consultation resulted in my sick note being extended for a further 5 days. Over the course of the next 5 days, taking me in to the fourth week, I continued to take it easy but managed to do pretty much everything I would normally do minus anything strenuous. I drove, I cooked meals, I watered my plants and veggies, I walked to the stables, I walked to the school, I went to the shop, I went to the garage. Normality began to feel almost touchable.

So that is the back drop to where I was when I saw the doc last Friday. Almost better but not quite there yet. So to that end she was happy to give me a fit for work chitty – but only on restricted duties. I am back at work but I am not allowed out of the office. Mentally I am soooooooooo ready to run. But I will err on the side of caution and refrain from digging out my running shoes for a bit longer. I would hate to find that my impatience undoes all the repair work and healing that my body is going through, setting me back and resulting in a much, much, longer time off my feet. A matter of another week, perhaps two at the most, and I feel confident that I will be physically capable of a little, steady easy plod around the village. At the moment I can do – I just can’t do everything yet.